Tobacco continues to be the number one preventable cause of death and disease in Michigan with the majority of smokers starting before 18 years of age. We also know that the earlier a person starts using tobacco, the harder it is to quit. The 1992 federal Synar amendment requires that states have in place a law prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to minors (under age 18), that states actively enforce their youth tobacco and vending machine laws, and that states demonstrate to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) the effectiveness of their enforcement efforts. CHS’s Up North Prevention coordinates SYNAR tobacco activities in 13 counties of Northern Michigan.

Retailer education was provided to 90 tobacco outlets in the 13 county area. Store owners, bars and restaurants were provided a retailer tobacco education packet outlining the law, providing new signage to hang in their place of business and a conversation with a prevention specialist that offered on additional on-site training on the legal sale of tobacco. The primary component of Synar is to coordinate “under cover” tobacco surveys, where a chaperone and an underage youth enter a tobacco licensee and attempt to purchase tobacco products. Tobacco retailers are randomly selected at the State level. Michigan’s goal is have 80% compliance. If Michigan is not in compliance, substance abuse treatment and prevention block grant dollars can be penalized by 25%.

In preparation for the store surveys, all 13 counties of prosecuting attorneys provided an acknowledgement of support for this activity, as well as 12 of 13 County Sheriffs. The surveys were conducted over the course of two weekends in grocery stores, gas stations, bars and restaurants. 65% of retailers selected were in compliance and did not sell tobacco to our underage decoy.

A second event of tobacco surveying, called “non-synar” is an additional prevention initiative orchestrated by the State. Another 46 retailers were surveyed using the Synar protocol with 94% demonstrating compliance to the law.All retailers were provided follow up communications indicating their store was selected for a tobacco survey, listing the date and time conducted and whether or not they were in compliance. In addition, underage tobacco education information was included with the letter.

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